An ordinary-looking garden in the heart of Dundee could hold the key to curing a host of life-threatening diseases.
The plot at Dundee University is home to a number of plants used in medication for heart disease, chronic pain and even malaria, which killed 409,000 people in 2019.
And now the public is being urged to help care for the grounds while finding out more about the role of plants in medical research.
Malaria researcher Irene Hallyburton hopes the new project will help connect the community with the research taking place at the university.
The garden, which was only planted this spring, contains a number of vital herbs, shrubs and flowers – including artemisia, the main plant used for malaria drug treatment.
Irene said: “We had a new building put up around four or five years ago and there was a big sort of blank canvas garden and it wasn’t very exciting.
“I thought it was a missed opportunity to really do something with it.
“There was a chance to get funding for a public beautification project and I proposed this and people thought it was a good idea.”
Learning the scientific uses of plants
While the plants certainly brighten up the dull corner, the majority of them also have scientific uses.
The garden contains foxgloves, which is used to create some heart medication, poppies, whose seeds are used in pain medication, as well as artemisia, which is used in the most common drug used for malaria treatment.
Irene researches malaria treatments at the university. She extracts cells from the plants and uses them in tests against parasites to see if there are more effective treatments for the disease.
Irene said: “It’s just to help educate people about what we do inside the building. Maybe we can join the two things up inside and outside of the building.”
Irene and the team at the drug research centre hope people will come forward to help.
“We hope to connect the researchers with the community”, she said.
“It’s a good opportunity to get people working together on one thing.
“And it would be good to be able to show people what we do here at the university.
“Lots of people know about plants as medicine. However, they don’t necessarily know what goes on in the big building on the hill.
“So it helps them associate things they know about with things they don’t know about.”
Working with the community
The team at the university are also working in partnership with the Dundee Science centre.
Irene said: “The Science Centre have developed their cafe seating area outside and they’ve now got a sensory garden.
“But we’ve also planted some of our plants down there too, so we helped to create that garden.”
She added: “We’ve also been working with Hospitalfield at Arbroath. We’re going up there to help them create a medicinal garden up there as well.”